Football: Dicks defies the odds to make memorable return

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The Independent Online
JULIAN DICKS was told he would never play football again by some of the world's best doctors, but he was determined to prove them wrong. He did so in spectacular fashion in Tuesday night's Worthington Cup match when he signalled his return for West Ham against Northampton with a man- of-the-match performance at Upton Park. He also earned a familiar yellow card to truly underline his comeback.

"I always knew I would play again," said Dicks following his first appearance for 18 months. "People have got their own opinions but they should keep them to themselves because they don't know what I am like.

"The best surgeons in the world were telling me my career was over, but I was offered a chance to have pioneering surgery in the USA and went for it. I sat down with Harry Redknapp, Peter Storrie and my agent Rachel Anderson about 15 months ago and we discussed whether or not my career was over.

"Then I went over to Alabama to see a surgeon called James Andrews. He said there was an operation I could have but it was a one-in-10 chance of succeeding and a 60-40 chance it would get worse. When I came round from the anaesthetic I was in absolute agony. That was my lowest moment, but once the pain went away I realised why I had done it. All I want to do is play football."

Dicks got a fantastic reception from the 25,000-strong crowd on Tuesday and wearing the captain's armband he was inspirational from the first whistle. The only disappointment was that although he helped the Hammers win 1-0 it was not enough to prevent them going out of the competition 2-1 on aggregate.

"Where football is concerned I don't need motivating," said the 30-year- old left-back. "It has been a long time. I went out there and I knew I would get a good reception - although I didn't think it would be that good - and that is all I need. The adrenalin started flowing.

"After the first five minutes I was shattered. But the longer it went on the better I felt. Although we won 1-0 it was a bad night for the club. But for me it was a memorable night . It is just nice to be playing again."

Dicks' performance has almost guaranteed his place in the team against Southampton on Monday. "I shall have a couple of days off to let the knee settle down and hopefully I shall play on Monday. But there are a lot of great players here now and you have to really fight hard for your place in every game," he said.

Redknapp, the West Ham manager, is ready to pick him again and said: "After a performance like that it is difficult to leave him out of our next game. I shall have to find a place for him. I can't speak highly enough about what Julian has achieved. To come back and play again after the horrific surgery he has been through, and without having trained, he is a freak.

"Fifteen months ago we sat in my office and he said he was finished, his knee was knackered. The operation was a last-ditch attempt, and even after it the doctors said he'd never play again. It shows how much character he has, and why he is one of the all-time great West Ham players."